According to tradition, representatives of the three founding Swiss cantons met at the Rütli meadow to form an alliance against the Habsburgs, their feudal lords. This tranquil spot on the shore of Lake Lucerne could only be reached by boat and was therefore ideal for secret meetings.
Aegidius Tschudi, the 16th-century historian, believed that the first pact was concluded in this place – signed on St Martin’s Day, 1307, the very year in which William Tell refused to salute the hat of Gessler, the Habsburg governor of the region.
However, following the discovery of an ancient parchment in the early 19th century, the date had to be revised: the solemn oath had in fact been sworn 16 years earlier; not in winter but on the first of August, which has become the Swiss national day.
William Tell was not present at the historic event.